Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beer gets gussied up

Take a look at these two pictures. Two beer events, one brewery, two very different scenes.
The brewery, of course, is Brooklyn Brewery. The events are Savor (above, with brewmaster Garrett Oliver) and the recent World Beer Festival in Raleigh, N.C.
There's a move afoot lately in the craft beer scene to try and bring a bit of respectability, class maybe, to the famously working man's beverage. The inaugural Savor event in D.C. was the Brewers Association's latest effort to put a white tablecloth under the beer coaster.
Julie Johnson, editor of All About Beer magazine (which hosts the World Beer Festival) made mention of this trend in her review of Savor. Greg Kitsock said much the same in the Savor review he wrote for the Washington Post.
Why is the association and so many breweries, including Brooklyn and the Boston Beer Company, making the effort? Does beer need to be classed up? Would putting beer in the same rare air as wine harm beer in the long run?
In the short term, at least, I think a lot of this has to do with respect -- and a seat at the nicer table. Whether good or bad, wine is often treated like a precious indulgence. Any and all good fine dining restaurants have a wine list longer than your arm. And why not? Most folks going out for a special occasion or at least planning to drop a C-note on a couple lamb chops expects to enjoy a nice bottle of Medoc with it.
Going out for barbecue? Grab a sixer.
These common paradigms lock beer and wine into unfair stereotypes. There are many times when dinner from the frier calls for a good zinfandel. And there are times braised beef cheeks and foie gras would go as well or better with a bitter ale than the best of what Napa has to offer.
So I don't begrudge the folks behind Savor or the efforts of Garrett Oliver to show the world that beer plays as well in the dining room as on the back porch. In fact, I applaud them and would love to see more fine dining establishments put as much effort into their tap selection as they do their wine cellars.
I only hope that we don't forget that the back porch is a great place to drink a beer.

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